Boeing’s 787 Finally Gets Its Water Wings From the FAA

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

To say Boeing (NYSE:BA) had a rough start with its 787 Dreamliner is like saying General Motors has seen better years — it’s a heck of an understatement. After years of production delays, Boeing’s revolutionary jet was soon plagued by issues, not the least of which was battery problems that grounded the fleet of Dreamliners for several weeks, costing airlines millions. Once that was patched up, other issues sprouted — it seemed like there was a 787 making emergency landings somewhere in the world every week, from Norway to Japan.

After a couple of rather peaceful and incident-free months, though, it appears that the Federal Aviation Administration is finally willing to lift some of the restrictions that were imposed on the aircraft in the wake of the issues. This included a measure forbidding operators to fly the 787 to airports that were more than three hours away, in the event that something occurred in flight.

Now, the FAA’s new clearance will allow airlines to operate their 787s on trips as long as five and a half hours long, and make more direct routes, which will help cut fuel consumption. “Our customers are eager to expand their 787 operations,” Larry Loftis, Boeing’s general manager for the Dreamliner program, said in a statement, quoted by Bloomberg. “We’re delighted that this capability, which was designed into the airplane from the very beginning, has been certified.”

The 787 represents many firsts in commercial aerospace (its lithium in batteries come to mind), and it’s therefore unsurprising that the bugs have taken a while to be worked out. That doesn’t make it any less of a burden for already cash strapped airlines, who see the 787 as a key to lowering future flying costs thanks to its lightweight composites and fuel-efficient engines.

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For Boeing, the 787 is a crucial piece of weaponry in its fight with Airbus, its main rival in the commercial aerospace sector. Though it was supposed to give the Chicago-based Boeing a competitive edge initially, airlines balked after the 787 started experiencing what would become a chain of issues and groundings that paralyzed the Dreamliner’s global fleet.

Now that the FAA has signed off on longer voyages for the up and coming plane, regulators in other nations may follow suite, Bloomberg noted. Often, international regulators will follow the FAA’s lead. Now, the 787s can be flown over routes in the southern areas of the Pacific (especially helpful for 787 early adopter All Nippon Airways in Japan), Atlantic and Indian oceans, and over the North and South poles, Bloomberg said, adding that the newest version has the capacity to travel 15,370 kilometers. That’s further than the new 747 jumbo jet.

Boeing has delivered 146 planes to 19 different clients. Cumulatively, the planes have carried over 18 million passengers on 97,520 commercial flights, as of May 19. This was only possible after Boeing redesigned its lithium-ion battery units, which had a tendency of smoking or catching fire due to the increased electrical demands of the aircraft.

It’s onward and upward for the 787, and not a fraction too late either, as Airbus is reportedly considering updates to its A330 wide-body jet.

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